(This article originally appeared in Intuition Magazine)

The young American Peace Corp volunteer lay on the wooden bench in a hut built of split-wood staves, too sick to notice the discomfort of the hard pallet.  He felt utterly alone and abandoned in the world’s largest rainforest deep within the Amazon.  What had appeared at first to be only a simple case of indigestion or the flu, had proven to be much worse.  Now, six days into the illness and with thirty-five pounds melted from his body, his clothes hung on him like rags.  He could barely muster the strength to stumble to the jungle latrine a few feet away.  To compound the problem, the closest medical doctor was a two-day trek and a long bus ride away — two days for a healthy person.  Why hadn’t he heeded the advice his parents had pounded into him as a young boy? “Be careful of what you eat . . . don’t get your feet wet . . . always wash your hands.”  The litany of rules he had chosen to ignore since living with the Shuar Indians droned in his head laying over him like a quilt of guilt.

“You’re dying,” said the old man, gazing down at him.  Opening his eyes, the young man recognized the Shuar elder as the one who had taught him how to use a blowgun.  Looking around, he realized he had been moved to the man’s home.

“I know,” he whispered with cracked lips.

“Well, that’s good.  It means you get to shapeshift into the next life sooner.”

The young man groaned.

“But obviously you don’t feel like it’s time to shapeshift yet.”

“No, I’m too young . . .” the words faded into another groan.

“Well, I can prevent the shapeshift and make you healthy,” replied the old man.

With a nod from the young man, the shamanic healing begins.  After giving him a thick, foul-tasting orange liquid to drink, the old man leans over him and says, “Now travel with the anaconda.  Go into the dream that causes your sickness.  Change it.  I will be with you.”

The young man had heard the Shuar talk about their dreams in this way before.  “The world is as you dream it,” they said.  But could something as serious as his illness be healed so easily?

With the shaman chanting in the background, the young man enters into a trance-like state, what the Shuar refers to as pyschonavigation.  Then, overcome with nausea, he staggers to the doorway where he falls to his knees vomiting.  Before him, he sees thousands of large worms and realizes they must have come from him.

Then he hears voices — familiar voices from the past — his mother and father, a science teacher who taught a course in hygiene, a nurse, and several medical doctors.  All of them jabbering away, admonishing him not to get his feet wet, not to eat food unless he knew it had been prepared properly, and to always wash his hand.  “You could die,” they shout as if a single voice.

“No,” he shouts back as he stumbles and falls again.  He feels strong hands helping him up.  It’s the old man.  “Change the dream. . . change the dream.”

He follows his guide’s advice.  A new voice is heard, that of his grandmother. “We must eat a peck of dirt,” she says.  “Don’t be so finicky. Germs don’t kill.  Perceptions do.”  He’d forgotten her lessons, but it wasn’t too late to relearn them.  “The earth heals.” Her voice fades into the sound of a river. “Do not fear it.  Turn to it.”  He drifts off into a deep sleep.

The following morning, he’s completely healed.


Almost 30 years later, John Perkins, the young man saved by his first exposure to shamanism, considers it a pivotal point in many ways.  “I really didn’t understand what had happened.  I had just graduated from business school and wasn’t into shamanism, psychic phenomena, or any of those kinds of things,” says Perkins.  “Not only did it make me healthy, but it also changed my relationship with the Shuar.  They now accepted me into the community because I’d trusted one of their shamans enough to let him heal me.  I was the first white man they knew that hadn’t tried to change them but had done it their way. Then the shaman offered to teach me shamanism.”  Perkins accepted, curious to learn more about the methods that had saved his life and that were such an integral part of the Shuars’ culture.

Two of the principle techniques Perkins learned about were shapeshifting and psychonavigation. As Perkins explains in his most recent book, Shapeshifting: Shamanic Techniques for Global and Personal Transformation (Destiny Books, 1997) shapeshifting is basically a matter of shifting energy and the way we view energy.  Shapeshifting can occur on different levels, says Perkins.  It can occur at the cellular level, transforming into a new form like a jaguar or tree, or on a more personal level, shifting our beliefs and attitudes resulting in being more of the self we most respect.

Psychonavigation is a body of different techniques one can use to navigate through the psyche to a place one needs to be either physically, mentally, or spiritually.  It is used throughout the world for shamanic journeying, both for healing and to obtain guidance in decision-making and creativity.

The profound healing Perkins experienced also planted a seed that would take over twenty years to germinate.  When John’s Peace Corp tour ended, he was invited to interview for a job with an international consulting firm.  “I walked out of the Amazon and became a management consultant,” Perkins says.  He did well with the company, eventually becoming the Director of Management Consultants traveling all over the world overseeing major projects for the United Nations and the World Bank in Asia, Africa, Latin America, and the Middle East.

“I was making a great deal of money, living the good life,” Perkins remembers.  At the same time, whenever he was in a new country he would often take vacation time to explore the shamanic traditions of the indigenous people in that country. In this way, he learned from shamans, not only in the Amazon and Andes, but also in such countries as Iran, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, and Egypt.  But he never told anyone about what he did on these side trips or that he continued practicing the shamanic techniques of shapeshifting and pyschonavigation he had learned from the Shuar, feeling that his employers wouldn’t understand.

Several years into the job, Perkins began to experience a major change in his attitude and view of what was happening around him.  He grew increasingly concerned about the long-term effects of many of the projects he helped develop.  Sure, hydroelectric power plants, highways through rainforests, and oil pipelines across deserts added to the financial wealth of the countries, but they also wreaked havoc on the environment and their traditional cultures.  “For me to continue ignoring the voice of the rain forests, the Andes, the deserts, and my teachers was a violation of my conscience, a crime against my own soul.”

Then one night while in West Java watching a street-side wayang, the traditional shadow-play with puppets, the need to make a change was driven home.  Being the only foreigner in the group, Perkins towered above the local Javanese people who offered him slices of barbecued meat brushed with peanut sauce.  While several of the local Javanese practiced their broken English on Perkins and he fumbled with his very basic Indonesian, he learned that the shadow play they were watching was highly metaphysical, “An attempt to understand the universe and our role as individuals in it.”

As Perkins watched and pondered the message of the play, a young man approached him.  He spoke in English with a Dutch accent and the confidence of a wayang aficionado.  “You may watch the puppet or its shadow.  If you switch from the puppet to the shadow or vice versa, the right becomes left, and left becomes right.  The world reverses itself.  Everything is in the eye of the beholder.  It is all a matter of perception.  Like life itself.”

Perkins was struck by the words.  “It was as though one of the puppets had leaped over the heads of the people between the stage and me and slapped me across the face,” remembers Perkins.  It was perception that made all the difference! Hearing these words Perkins realized that for much of his life he’d been taught a particular perception about economic development.  But that was only one perspective, one that he now realized was a very greedy one that enriched a few people at the expense of many.  He also knew in his heart that it was a “shadowy perception, unsustainable and unjust, and that the human species could no longer indulge those who supported such a false dream.”


Returning from Java, the revelation of that night wouldn’t allow Perkins to simply return to his plush consulting job that no longer fit his new way of thinking.  “It was tough.  I’d seen the light, as we say, yet I had a hard time getting out of that life.  All the money . . . I even owned an oceangoing yacht.”  But in the early 80s he took the first big step by quitting his job in order to begin the search for what would bring him in balance with his new values

To fill the sudden void in his life, Perkins became an expert witness for a New Hampshire power company at their hearings to get the Seabrook nuclear power plan approved — a leap from the frying pan into the fire. His job was to prove that nuclear energy was superior to alternative technologies like wind, solar and cogeneration.  But the more he read and studied, the more Perkins began to doubt the validity of his own arguments. “I became very uncomfortable with the position I was expected to take — was paid to take, under oath, in what amounted to a court of law.”

Shortly before he was scheduled to testify, Perkins told the utility company’s executive and their chief attorney that he could no longer work for them.  Though they were shocked by his decision they agreed he should not lie under oath, but should, instead, “disappear” as an expert witness. When the executive vice president asked Perkins what he intended to do next, he promptly replied, “Start a company to develop cogeneration.”  From his studies Perkins had come to realize that power plants capable of utilizing energy for two purposes were a much more environmentally-friendly alternative than nuclear plants, so he set out to build such a company.

Although Perkins realized the sudden response was intuitively a good one, he had no idea at the time how difficult a job it would be. “Had I known than all the heartache I would endure over the next nine years, I would never have begun it,” says Perkins.

“There were a lot of companies trying to establish alternative energy and just about all of them were failing, and we were also threatened with failures,” remembers Perkins. With millions of dollars of investor’s money on the line, Perkins and the other executives began practicing psychonavigation and shapeshifting whenever there was a big decision to be made.

It wasn’t unusual for Perkins to take these shamanic journeys even during meetings while surrounded by dozens of attorneys and other executives.  It’s possible to psychonavigate with your eyes wide open while other things are going on around you, says Perkins, who feels we all have access to these deeper levels of wisdom.  It doesn’t take going into a special trance or conducting a secret seance.   It’s not unusual for the shamans in Ecuador to be talking to their family and carrying on normally while doing incredibly powerful healing with someone else who’s in the same room at the same time.  The same was true for Perkins in the board rooms.  “It’s the same as when you’re talking to someone, you’re also thinking.  Psychonavigation is another invisible form like that,” says Perkins.  “We can draw upon these incredible powers and lines of information without it appearing to be abnormal because it’s not.”

These techniques proved to be extremely effective.  “We would often get advice during these psychonavigational journeys that seemed outrageous in terms of the business school I’d graduated from and conventional business thinking,” says Perkins. “But, whenever we followed the advice we got from these shamanic journeys, things went in our favor and when we didn’t, we wished we had.”

The advice was so sound that eight years later, with the project successfully completed, Perkins and the other investors sold the company for a profit ranging from 5 to 20 times their original investment.  Not only was the enterprise a financial success, it was also an environmental one. The plant was designed around a revolutionary boiler that converted mountains of “nonusable” waste coal into electricity without producing acid rain. At the same time, it utilized its cooling system to heat a hydroponic greenhouse.

But the “corporate shaman’s” work was far from over.  In the almost decade it had taken him to build the plant, Perkins’s personal life also transformed.  During this time, the man who had sworn he would never have the time or inclination for a child, married and became a father.  With this transformation came the realization of his real dream — to save the rainforests of the world. And with the sale of the energy company, Perkins now had the time, money, and energy to pursue it.


Not long after the sale of the energy company, Perkins returned to Ecuador and the Shuar to share his vision of saving the rainforests.   Perkins’ idea was to somehow eliminate the Shuar’s dependency on raising cattle, which were mostly used to satiate Americans’ hunger for beef.  He imagined introducing a new crop more conducive to the rain forests, perhaps iguana farming, which had been successful in Panama and Colombia.  Another idea was to explore drying fruit that came from the rainforests that could then be exported.   But as he shared his vision with them, he found they had a different view of what was needed.

“They told me, ‘if you really want to save the rain forests, don’t come here and try to change us, change your people because it’s your people who are destroying the forest,’” says Perkins.  As far as the Shuar were concerned the destruction of the rain forests came not just from the oil, lumber, and beef industries of the north, but most of all from the north’s dream of a materialistic lifestyle that had become realized.  From the Shuars’ view, the world is as you dream it.  Unfortunately, the dream of the north had become a nightmare, not only for the north and south but for the entire planet.

After the Shuar suggested Perkins’ work was back at home, they added,  “if there are certain people who want to become teachers and help others change the dream bring them here to learn from us.”

Hearing this, Perkins knew it was correct, even though only the night before he had argued with three French tour guides against bringing foreigners into the jungle.  In that discussion, Perkins had felt it was important to allow the Shuar to stay isolated and protected from a heavy influx of tourists.  Now, he realized there was a new perspective to consider.  The Shuar weren’t interested in more tourists, but they were interested in people receptive to learning how to live more naturally in the world.

For the past 9 years, Perkins’ focus has been to lead workshops in this country on shamanic techniques, writing 4 books on the subject, and taking small groups of 10 to 12 people to the rain forests of Ecuador several times a year to learn the healing ways from the Shuar elders as well as, in many cases, to experience their own healing.  To do this, Perkins formed Dream Change Coalition with its goals to inspire earth-honoring changes in consciousness, and the conservation of forests, and to apply indigenous wisdom in ways that foster environmental and social balance.

Since beginning these treks, close to 500 people have accompanied Perkins into the Amazon and Andes regions of South America.  They’ve come from all walks of life including medical doctors, psychotherapists, scientists, business executives, investment bankers, and teachers.  Most have learned about Dream Change Coalition through his books and workshops.

Dr. Eve Bruce, a plastic surgeon in practice from Baltimore, Maryland, accompanied Perkins on one of his trips to Ecuador in 1997.  As a physician, Bruce has always had an intense interest in the healing arts, so when she heard that someone was conducting trips to Ecuador to see and experience the ancient healing techniques of the local shamans, she jumped at the chance.  She went as an interested observer, but in Quito, Ecuador, her role changed.

As the group from the Baltimore area prepared to board a bus, Eve noticed she felt a little ill, but attributed it to fatigue.  But as she sat in her seat, her condition worsened.  “I need a plastic bag fast!” She shouted to her group leader.  At first, everyone thought she was joking.  She wasn’t, and for the next three days, she spent much of her time vomiting into plastic bags. By the time they reached the first shaman, Eve was dehydrated and weak.  Shortly after their arrival, she was escorted to Don Alberto Tatzo, often called “the Jesus of the Andes” for his eloquent demeanor and appearance.  Don Alberto began his healing ceremony.

“I was so ill that I don’t remember many details,” says Bruce, “but I do remember a strange sense of calm, of familiarity, of knowing, of being home.”  The healing took less than an hour.  During the ceremony, Don Alberto used fire, smoke, feathers, and water, representing the elements, as he prayed and chanted.  “I remember a large, smooth stone at my feet,” recalls Bruce, “which I caressed throughout the ceremony. In no way did the healing resemble any technique I’d been taught in medical school. Nothing to date had prepared me for this, yet I felt no fear or doubt, only calm assurance.”

It was a spontaneous healing.  “I was not only healed, but I was able to participate fully in the rest of the journey!”

Since her first journey to Ecuador, Bruce has become an active member of Dream Change Coalition, leading groups herself as well as being trained extensively in shamanism.  Bruce is beginning to lead shamanic workshops in the medical profession, as well as using them daily in her own practice. “I use shamanic healings for many of my patients,” says Bruce, “and I always pray before and during surgery.  As I see patients, I talk with them about what we really want in our life, and of our bodies, and the beauty within; our natural charisma.  I facilitate the shapeshift into beauty, with or without surgery.”

Through the years, Bruce has come to realize that when patients call to make an appointment with her, or with any healer, two very important steps have occurred; 1) they’ve decided something is awry in their lives and 2) they have decided to do something about it. If they come to a plastic surgeon instead of a chiropractor, a psychotherapist, or another healer they are looking for a physical change.

“I have found that what constitutes their first step is not as important as the fact that they are taking a step,” says Bruce.  “Often I see patients who make an external change, and then in follow-ups throughout the ensuing year, I see an

incredible internal change. Their whole personality changes, their outlook,

the way they interact, the way they dress, and even the way they hold themselves and walk. They often change their job, their relationships, and their lives! This is what   I would call major shapeshifting.”


Perkins’ efforts to save the rainforests have produced some unexpected results both in Ecuador and at home.  While Perkins has concentrated on shapeshifting the culture of the north as he was advised to do by the Shuar, cultural changes are also starting to take place among the younger generations of Shuar as well.

“On our trips, our medical doctors go to learn,” says Perkins.  “In the process, a tremendous interest has been generated among the young Shuar in what their own elders, shamans, and herbal healers do.”  According to Perkins the Shuar were taught for over 30 years by medical missionaries and by missionaries in their schools not to listen to their healers and shamans.  But for the past nine years, they’ve watched as doctors and scientists have come specifically to listen to these elders.

Perkins remembers one night when a young Shuar watched a small cluster of Americans as they sat around one of the elder tribesmen.  “Why are all these gringos sitting here having healings by this witch doctor?” he asked Perkins.

“Because he is a very powerful healer,” said Perkins.

“Yes, but you have the most powerful doctors in the world in your country,” the boy replied.

Perkins smiled.  “Yes, and five of them are here being healed by your shaman.”

The boy thought about this for a while before asking, “Are you telling me that if I want to be a healer I shouldn’t go to medical school;  I should become a shaman instead?”

“I suggest you do both,” answered Perkins.

At home, Perkins’s life has come full circle as an increasing amount of his work involves shapeshifting at the institutional level, both with for-profit corporations and with governmental agencies and nonprofits.  “I’m very comfortable in the business world and I speak the language,” says Perkins, “but I moved away from that for a while and worked more with indigenous people and leading people on trips.  Now I’m bringing all these concepts back into the business community.”

Perkins has worked extensively with the Nike Corporation in their home offices in Portland as well as taking a group of their executives to   British Columbia where he facilitated a shapeshifting workshop.    He has also worked with 120 attorneys and backup staff of the Broward County Public Defenders Office in Fort Lauderdale.  Perkins was initially called in to lead a half-day workshop but they were so impressed by his work they kept asking him back for more. The half-day workshop expanded to a total of 11 days of programs on how to use shapeshifting in jury selection, tapping into their intuitive nature, and relieving stress.

Perkins doesn’t solicit this kind of business but prefers to have them find him, usually from someone attending one of his public workshops or from reading his books.  For this reason, he’s found the organizations he works with to be open and receptive to what he offers.

“We start with the premise, the corporation is only as good as its individual employees,” says Perkins.  “So, we look at the corporation’s objective and then ask each individual to see how their goals relate to the corporation’s objectives. If there are good people in the organizations that have goals that seem to be in conflict with the organization’s objectives, then they need to work this out and rectify it so the organization will help them fulfill the individual’s goals.”

As a young man, Perkins wasn’t ready to die in the jungles of South America, so a shaman showed him how to shapeshift the perceptions that were killing him to a new way of thinking and viewing health. Since then, Perkins changing perspective has expanded from an individualistic view to a global one.  It’s time all of us change our dream for the earth. As T. E. Lawrence once wrote: “Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their mind wake in the day to find that all was vanity; but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dreams with open eyes, and make it possible.”  John Perkins dreams with his eyes wide open.

The End


The following eight-step exercise is a dream-changing technique taught by Tibetan shamans.  While techniques may vary somewhat from shamans of different cultures Perkins has found they all follow basic principles.

1. Select a dream, something you know from the depths of your soul you want to have come true.  Be sure it’s a real dream, something you really want to happen, and not just a fantasy or whim.

2. With eyes closed see a very black place, a sort of void.  A silver star appears, surrounded by blackness.  Send your dream out to the star.  Watch the star absorb the dream.

3. Bring the star (with the dream) into your forehead, allowing it to pass through your third eye, between and slightly above your two eyes.

4. Envision the inside of your head as a crystal ball or a globe of mirrors.  The dream and star are now reflected and magnified throughout this splendid place.

5. Watch the dream and star explode three times.  Each time, instead of being destroyed, they are energized.  They become thoroughly integrated with your mind.

6. Let them drop down into your heart.  See it also as a place lined with crystal where dreams and stars are magnified.

7. Watch the dream and star explode three more times.  With each explosion, reaffirm your commitment to making this dream become a reality.  Feel the energy of your heart and the fusion that takes place between your heart, the dream, and the star.

8. Let them rise up through your head, out the third eye, and back into the blackness.

It’s recommended to repeat this exercise at least three times a week — more if you’re so inclined.

(adapted from  Shapeshifting: Shamanic Techniques for Global and Personal  Transformation, Destiny Books, 1997)

W. Bradford Swift writes for a wide range of magazines, including Utne Reader and New Age Journal. This article is from Project Purpose: articles about people whose life is dedicated to a bold purpose or vision. If you’d like to nominate someone for Project Purpose, contact Brad at brad@wbradfordswift.com. Other Project Purpose articles are online at https://www.wbradfordswift.com/lop